Across the UCC
August - September 2008

Using grant funds, Stillspeaking churches get the word out


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IN NORTH CAROLINA: Stillspeaking takes to the buses

United Church of Chapel Hill in North Carolina was one of the test markets for the "God is Still Speaking" advertising campaign before its launch in 2004, so the congregation has a close and ongoing relationship with the comma.

The first year, says the Rev. Rick Edens, the church strictly used the materials provided by the denomination. But over time, struck by inspiration, United Church found a way to put a unique twist on their advertisement, using the talents of their own church members.

"We have been very fortunate that we have people in marketing or graphic design in our congregation," says Edens.

In a series of print ads featuring the Christian fish symbol, graphic designer and church member Dick Hill plays with the notion of feeling marginalized or lost.

"We took the iconic fish symbol and found ways to be playful with it," Edens says. One sign features a school of fish swimming to the right, except for one lonely fish, who is swimming to the left. The caption reads, "Left out?"

In Chapel Hill, a free bus system has been underwritten by the city council to ease traffic and parking congestion, providing an excellent opportunity for advertising. United Church's posters have found a home on the overhead section inside the bus.

"It's been very fortuitous," says Edens, who frequently meets visitors who came because of the bus posters. "In the last several years, we've seen a tremendous increase in ridership of the buses."

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This fall, United Church is part of a 12-congregation consortium that has received a "Media with a Mission" grant from the UCC's Stillspeaking Ministry.

With the funds they will be receiving, the churches will be able to beef up their own marketing budget to get the word out through TV ads and radio spots. But Edens feels confident that inspiration will strike again; his graphic designer friends are already working to create their own unique posters.

"We'll play off that back-to-school time. This is a time when a number of people are looking to find a new church," he says. "It's a time to start again."

IN MONTANA: Customized radio spots on the airwaves

University Congregational UCC in Missoula, Mont., was a recipient of "Media with a Mission" grant funding this year. With the financial support, the congregation was able to purchase radio advertising time with two radio stations for three weeks before Easter.

Using the 30-second radio spots produced by the UCC couldn't have been easier, said the Rev. Amy Carter, associate pastor. By being able to add a local tag at the end of the spot, the customized ad allowed the church to advertise both for their Missoula congregation as well as their satellite church that is growing in the town of Hamilton, Mont., just 45 miles south of Missoula.

"The Hamilton area is quite conservative," says Carter. "So our desire to start a new church out there is an attempt to provide a clear alternative to what is predominantly available there now. To be bold in that proclamation — but also to be able to do it with a sense of humor — is helpful in getting the message across."

Carter says the humor of the radio spots got people's attention. "While the ads were running, there were a few times when I went into town and wrote a check, or told people where I worked, and they'd say, 'Oh, you're at that church with the funny ads!'"

Having just celebrated 15 years of being Open and Affirming, University Congregational UCC felt proud to be connected to the radio advertisements with their message of extravagant welcome.

Since the ads began running, visitor attendance, particularly from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, has increased, Carter says.

"The advertisements were helpful," she says, "in reminding our members of the importance of this witness in a very public way."

IN PENNSYLVANIA: Churches team up on ad buys

By going in with three other congregations in Central Pennsylvania, St. Paul's UCC in Mechanicsburg, Pa., got more bang for their advertising buck.

During their pre-Easter advertising blitz, consistory member Shirley Keith-Knox says money they received from the Stillspeaking Ministry's Media with a Mission grant allowed their church to increase the number of times their radio spot was aired.

"It is always important to share the good news of the UCC church and the welcoming attitude of our congregations," she says.

Other Pennsylvania churches participating in the cluster ad buy were Penbrook UCC and Colonial Park UCC both in Harrisburg, Pa., and Church of the Redeemer UCC in Hershey, Pa.

Since St. Paul UCC's pastor recently retired after 35 years at the church, the Media with a Mission dollars came at an opportune time, when the congregation was looking to invigorate the vitality of the church during the interim process as they searched for a permanent pastor.

Keith-Knox says several visitors have cited the radio spots for the reason they came to check out the church and learn more about the UCC.

"I love it, and people recognize it," says Keith-Knox about the Stillspeaking campaign. "You automatically know who you are. It gives you a lot of pride that you're part of a congregation that is very progressive, in the process of making a difference."



Thirty churches received support from the Stillspeaking Ministry's "Media with a Mission" grants in 2008. Here's the list of this year's participating churches:

Cathedral of Hope UCC, Dallas, Texas
Cedar Hills UCC, Portland, Ore.
Church of the Redeemer UCC, Hershey, Pa.
Colonial Park UCC, Harrisburg, Pa.
Community of Hope UCC, Tulsa, Okla.
Coral Gables (Fla.) Congregational UCC
Edgewood United Church, East Lansing, Mich.
First and St. Stephen's UCC, Baltimore, Md.
First Congregational UCC, Jackson, Mich.
First Congregational UCC, Newark Valley, N.Y.
First Congregational UCC, Hillsboro, Ore.
First Congregational UCC, Watertown, S.D.
Forest Grove (Ore.) UCC
Friends Congregational UCC, College Station, Texas
Miami Beach (Fla.) Community UCC Paramus (N.J.) Congregational UCC
Penbrook UCC, Harrisburg, Pa.
Peace Congregational UCC, Clemson, S.C.
Pilgrim Congregational UCC, Lansing, Mich.
Pilgrim - St. Luke's UCC, Buffalo, N.Y.
Pleasant Hill (Tenn.) Community UCC
Riverside Community UCC, Hood River, Ore.
St. Stephens-Bethlehem UCC, Buffalo, N.Y.
St. Paul's UCC, Mechanicsburg, Pa.
St. Paul UCC, Lincoln, Neb.
UCC Congregational, Plainfield, N.J.
United Christian Church, Miles City, Mont.
United Church of Paducah (Ky.)
University Congregational, UCC, Missoula, Mont.
Williston-West UCC, Portland, Maine

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Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115